U.S. Sen. and former "Saturday Night Live" comedian Al Franken did his best to remain non-partisan during a fundraising event for the Wood River Community YMCA on Friday evening, but he couldn't help being funny.
Speaking impromptu and answering questions for a crowd of some 250 people at an amphitheater behind the Ketchum-area house of philanthropist Kipp Nelson, Sen. Franken, D-Minn., helped raise about $176,000 during the event Friday night. $77,000 was raised the following day at a golf tournament in Sun Valley.
Franken said his first success as a senator came after two weeks in office when he co-sponsored a bipartisan bill with Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., to fund a program that provides service dogs for injured veterans.
Franken said service dogs help vets with post-traumatic-stress disorder counteract panic attacks, combat isolation and remember to take their medications. He said his mother, after contracting Alzheimer's disease, was calmed only by the presence of a dog on her couch.
"Johnny [Isakson] is very conservative, and a great guy. He said to call if I ever need anything. I called him recently and said I had this gay marriage bill ... I haven't heard back from him."
Franken said when he began working on Capitol Hill he was awed by the abundance of plaques and awards in Sen. Christopher Dodd's office.
"He had plaques and eagles and things covered in lucite. Now I know that when you are a senator, people throw awards at you. We are now storing awards at my office," he said.
When asked what "dream bill" he would pass in the U.S. Senate, Franken said it would be an omnibus bill that includes funding for early-childhood education, insurance reform to reduce health care costs, and research into alternative energy to combat the effects of global warming.
"We spend less today than in the past on energy research, which is crazy," said Franken, drawing a connection between the smoke-filled skies about Ketchum caused by nearby forest fires and global climate change.
"I have colleagues [in the Senate] who don't believe that global warming is caused by humans, although 97 percent of climate scientists do," he said.
Franken said he is proud to have co-sponsored, along with Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., a provision in the Affordable Health Care Act that would provide diabetes prevention for individuals classed "pre-diabetic," a program that reduces the risk of these patients contracting diabetes by 60 percent.
He said he is currently working on a bill that would allow for insurance reimbursements for such programs
"Seventy-five percent of health care costs in the United States go to pay for the effects of chronic diseases, including diabetes," Franken said. He touted the not-for-profit Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., as a model of medical care that could be followed to reduce costs.
The Mayo Clinic pays doctors according to salaries, rather than including percentages for diagnostic testing.
"We pay two to three times as much on health care as other industrialized countries. There is a difference between seeing patients as a profit center and seeing them as patients," Franken said.
Franken followed his talk with an impressive and patriotic parlor trick, drawing by hand with a magic marker a highly accurate map of the entire United States.
The map was auctioned off to Kipp Nelson, the highest bidder, but only after Franken teased his host mercilessly.
The senator said the most fun he ever had working for "Saturday Night Live" was rolling around on the floor in giggles with his co-writers and performers after coming up with some really funny jokes.
"That was the most rewarding time, until I helped pass a service-dogs-for-veterans-bill in the Senate," he said.